Wales Arts Review publishes the “commandments for a better womanly life” as laid out by novelist and dancer Jodie Bond international Women’s Day 2020 talk, The Antidote to Dictates on Women.
When I was recently asked to present a talk for International Women’s Day, I wasn’t sure where to start. We women are varied, broad creatures. My choice of topics seemed boundless. But when a viral video found its way into my social media feeds again and again, I found my subject.
Cynthia Nixon’s Be a Lady They Said video has been watched by tens of millions of viewers across the internet, shared by thousands, including Cara Delevingne, Dua Lipa and Madonna. And no wonder: it conveys a powerful message about the rules imposed on women by all sections of society.
In response, I found myself seeking an antidote to this toxic hit of stark and often contradictory dictates imposed on the female sex. The answer lay in the advice of some brilliant women who I am lucky enough to call friends. I am compelled to share their wisdom with you here.
I propose my remedy through their words in a series of commandments for a better womanly life:
Don’t let others define your success
While compiling this list of advice, so many women came back to me with the same issue: the media makes us feel bad. It tells us we’re not rich enough, not skinny enough, not beautiful enough, not successful enough. Unattainable standards are set.
But what is success? The friend who best articulated this to me would see women setting their own standards. For her, it is ‘the day I like myself as a person’. For others it will be different. The trick it to celebrate all women for whatever their successes may be and not to feel diminished by those who we perceive to have attained more.
Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
Find joy in the small things
Pause and listen to the birds sing. Pet your neighbour’s dog. Make tea and give yourself time to really enjoy it. Close your eyes when you hear music.
We are often so busy that we don’t find time to appreciate the world around us. There is magic in honing your attention on little details. Be present. Life is a patchwork of small things; if we can find the beauty in them, the world will transform itself around us.
Don’t be afraid to suck at something new
Fear of failure is crippling and stops so many of us from attempting to try something different. How many people do you know who will tell you they ‘can’t sing’ or ‘can’t dance?’ Bullshit. These are things we can all do, yet we’re shamed into thinking we can only express them if we do so with perfection.
The life of a writer means regularly facing rejection. It’s a competitive world and to make it you must put yourself out there – and be ready to face the fact that you will not always be successful. My personal strategy has been to turn failure into my ally: I collect rejection emails. The more I gather, the better I feel. It means I’m trying. If we don’t try we will never succeed.
Don’t be afraid to suck at anything. Always dance like no one’s watching.
Don’t spend time doing things you don’t like
Many of us often fall into the trap of saying yes to things that don’t really meet with our priorities. Ask yourself does this help me to live the kind of life I want to live? Does it help me be the kind of person I want to be? If not, then don’t waste your energy on it.
We all saw the brief trend of this piece of advice after the tragic death of Caroline Flack. It is more than a hashtag. Being kind is essential to our wellbeing. It has recognised health benefits. The helper’s high, as it’s known, has proven to reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, decrease depression, increase self-esteem and even increase life expectancy.
A recent survey revealed that twenty five percent of us don’t trust our neighbours. This is an increase of ten percent in recent years. As crime figures recede, our mistrust in each other grows. A sad indictment of society, but one we can change. Don’t wait for the opportunity to arise. Our kindness is limitless and free. Offer it to a stranger. You’ll feel better for it.
Ask for more
Value yourself. Take a look at yourself and decide your worth. Be generous as you do this; the value you place on yourself matters more than the opinion of any other person. If you are not getting the respect, the salary or the platform that you deserve – ask for it. Men are more likely than women to apply for roles they are unqualified for. They are more likely to ask for promotions and pay rises, too. In a world where we compete together, women need to have belief in their skill sets. As sexism makes a slow retreat into the annals of history, seize the opportunity and ask for what you deserve.
Love your body
One friend summarised this beautifully: Get to know your body. How it moves, looks, feels, tastes, smells, what it wants and needs. This helps give you confidence and awareness that bolsters your mental wellbeing and how you feel inside and out. As well as giving you assuredness with your place in the world it will enable you to take up space in this patriarchal society. Getting to know yourself helps you get into power.
I am totally on board with her advice. As a burlesque dancer I have had the privilege of seeing dozens of women nervously take up a pair of feather fans for the first time in an attempt to improve their self-esteem. By God it works! Surrounding themselves with a group of positive women and giving themselves licence to appreciate their body changes the way they see themselves.
Size and age don’t come into it – love what you’ve got and don’t pine for a different figure. It will only make you unhappy.
Look after yourself
This is the bottom line and the piece of advice that is most worth heeding. Attending to our basic physical and mental wellbeing is the foundation on which lay our happiness. Pavlov’s hierarchy topples without it.
Eat well. Sleep well. Drink plenty of water. Exercise. Build yourself a solid foundation and you will flourish.
This one is simple. Art, in whatever form, is therapy, expression and a vital outlet.
No one can create art the way you do. Get to it: create.
Fuck the rules. Be a slut. Do whatever you want.
This advice comes from a couple of friends who are swingers. Their liberal outlook on sex has no bearing on the relevance of their advice. I’m not saying we will all find happiness in promiscuity (although my friends might disagree), but if you are tempted to feel shame or reticance in desire, it is time to put that behind you.
Be open with your partner, talk with your friends and, most of all, be honest with yourself when it comes to sex. Life is too short to deny yourself pleasure.
Jodie Bond’s debut novel, The Vagabond King, is available now from Parthian.